Not Just the WBC! “Super High School Class Aces and Sluggers” to Heat Up the Spring Sembatsu Koshien Tournament, Opening on March 18 | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Not Just the WBC! “Super High School Class Aces and Sluggers” to Heat Up the Spring Sembatsu Koshien Tournament, Opening on March 18

Scouts are excited: "We have a bumper crop this year!

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Four years ago, in the early spring of 2007, at the ground of Ofunato Municipal Daiichi Junior High School in Iwate Prefecture, Akira Sasaki’s home school, I met a 13-year-old left fielder who threw a softball with a velocity of 120 km/h and a beautiful form. His slider and other breaking pitches were bent so tightly near the catcher that I had a feeling he would make his breakthrough at Koshien a few years later. The boy’s name was Haruto Nita.

He went on to Sendai Ikuei and last summer became the first player from the Tohoku region to win the national championship. His pitch speed has already reached 147 km/h.

Sendai Ikuei

Yuta Tomoma, 3rd year, Pitcher (Right)
Haruto Nita, junior, pitcher (center)
Koki Takahashi, 3rd year, Pitcher (Left)
The three pillars of the strongest team that won last summer will challenge the feat of winning the summer and spring championships in a row at the Sembatsu Tournament.

All three pitchers boast straight pitches with maximum speeds in the mid-140 km/h. Takahashi, the ace number pitcher, has been pitching since winter. Takahashi, the ace number one, worked on his lower body thoroughly over the winter and gained 3 kg. He has also become more stable. Takahashi: 183 cm, 87 kg, throws right-handed, Nita: 175 cm, 74 kg, throws left-handed, Yuda: 181 cm, 84 kg, throws right-handed, hits left-handed

I have confidence in my instantaneous power. I think that is the reason why my ball speed has increased. At this point, I would like to go pro, but whether or not I can go pro will depend on the results of the Sembatsu. I want to prepare so that I can give my best performance.

Last fall, his form fluctuated wildly; one day he would throw a ball that no one could touch, and the next, it would go wild in all directions.

I’ve been working on improving my repeatability (of pitches) and making sure I always give the same performance. In the Sembatsu tournament, I want to achieve the team’s goal of winning the championship for the second time.

Left-handers who throw a powerful fastball are rare throughout Japan. With seven pitchers on the team who can reach over 140 km/h, the team has the most powerful pitching staff in this tournament, or even in the history of Koshien, and the ace of the team is last summer’s top pitcher, Koki Takahashi.

The ace of the team will be last summer’s winning pitcher, Koki Takahashi. But we are still far from being the best in Japan. Not only Nita, but all the pitchers in the highly competitive pitching lineup are our rivals, and we have been improving each other through friendly competition. (I want to beat Osaka Toin (who we lost to in last fall’s Meiji Jingu Tournament) and win the championship.

Sendai Ikuei has another pillar of pitching talent. Yuda Tsunuma, a right-handed pitcher with a 146-kilometer maximum speed who was often asked to start in the Miyagi and Tohoku tournaments, says, “With Takahashi and Nita behind me, I can relax. With these three pillars at the center, Sendai Ikuei will aim to win back-to-back “Summer/Spring” championships.

However, the heavy favorite for the Senbatsu Tournament will be Osaka Toin. Their strong batting lineup is the same as in previous years. In addition, Maeda Yugo will play the central role of ace and captain this year.

Batters who have played against Maeda say that he “doesn’t lose many pitches” and has “good control of the ball. He has a crossfire that digs into the knees of right-handed batters and a change-up that sinks to the outside of the plate, both of which are not at the high school level.

Since the final of last fall’s Osaka Tournament against Rimusho-sha, Maeda has been inconsistent in his control, issuing a series of walks in the Kinki and Jingu tournaments, and has been far from his best form. In January, the day the team was selected to participate in the Sembatsu Tournament, I asked Maeda a question: “Since the game against Rushosha, he has been struggling with a right side injury.

After the game against Rusho-sha, I was pitching in the fall while trying to cover it up (he did not disclose his injury). (I didn’t want to show him how weak I was. There are many players who can be injured, but it is definitely better not to have a breakdown. I didn’t think it was necessary to say so myself (laughs).”

Osaka Toin

Yugo Maeda, 3rd year, pitcher
Absolute ace of the strongest team, vowing to make up for last summer’s defeat.

The character “Hana” on his cap means that he will contribute to victory with his brilliant pitching. 180 cm, 80 kg, left-handed pitcher, left-handed hitter.

Bonds” and “Okawari-kun

Osaka Toin’s coach, Koichi Nishitani, is an alumnus of Houtoku Gakuen, a traditional school in Hyogo, and his team will be looking for revenge against Osaka Toin, which they defeated in the final of the Kinki Tournament. The key player is Shuna Hori Hiiragina, who has been the regular catcher since the fall of her freshman year. She is known for her “explosive shoulders,” and her time at second base is 1.8 seconds, which is considered a passable time for the pros.

I have been conscious of my speed after catching the ball since last year. However, being fast is not the same as being able to hit a runner in the head. This winter, I also worked on the stability of my delivery. When I was in the fourth grade, my instructor advised me, ‘If you are looking to move up, it is easier to play the game as a catcher because there are fewer potential catchers,’ so I have always been a catcher.”

Until last fall, he had an impression that he was slim (179 cm, 75 kg), but over the winter he gained 5 kg and his muscles became thicker. His idol is Takuya Kai, the regular catcher for the Samurai Japan team. When he played in the Kinki Tournament last spring, he looked up to Shion Matsuo (now of Yokohama DeNA), a player one year older than him from Toin Osaka, as a role model.

He said, “I’m still not as good as Matsuo-san. In batting, you have to be consistent in both distance and batting average. And defensively, I am not good enough in terms of how to be a pitcher’s catcher.

His motto is “Sekisoku Uwidai (small is great). His motto is “Sekisoku tidai,” which means that by accumulating small things, one can achieve great things. After graduating from high school, Hori has decided to “go pro.

If I could go, I would go first in the draft. Coach Kenji Ohtsuno always tells me to keep the pros in mind as I practice.

Keita Manabe, a.k.a. “Bonds” of Hiroryo (Hiroshima), is a slugger who is likely to play a leading role in this year’s Senbatsu, the 95th anniversary tournament. Katsuji Kiyohara of Keio Gijuku (Kanagawa), whose father is Kazuhiro Kiyohara, has also shown the same festive manliness as his father by hitting a single shot in the Kanagawa and Kanto tournaments. Katsuji, who is in his second year as a freshman due to his retention, says, “I am a hard worker, energetic, and good at what I do.

I am a hard worker and energetic. That is my characteristic. I want to achieve the Senbatsu championship, which my father could not achieve.

Katsuji’s uniform has the number of his father’s helmet sewn into it as a good-luck charm.

The new sophomore also has a home run artist. His 175 cm, 97 kg body is in its prime growing up, and he is “Reiwa’s new boy,” as he puts it.

I’ve been working hard on my weight recently so that I can be as close as possible to Kazuma Okamoto of the Giants, who can hit big hits in the opposite direction,” he says.

On the day of the interview in early March, Naoki Hinata of Tokai University Sugo (Tokyo), who was dominating the school’s bullpen, made an exhilarating sound with his straight pitches. He throws a fork, sinker, cut, shot, slider, and all kinds of breaking pitches.

He is dexterous with his hands, and is good at sewing, which he learned in junior high school home economics class. I even make my own cushions (laughs). His weapons are a straight ball (max. 150 km/h) and a fork. Especially with my fork, I drop it vertically or bend it to the right or left. When studied, if the same type of pitch can be varied in bend and velocity, it is harder for hitters to hit.”

His nickname called by his peers is “Ostrich. The origin of this nickname is said to be his unusual resilience. I recall that when I interviewed him after the first round game of the Jingu Tournament, in which he had to give up in the first inning due to accumulated fatigue, I was stunned to hear him say, “I’m healed now.

Born the fifth of seven siblings, Hideto played junior high school softball for the Kanegafuchi Eagles (Sumida Ward, Tokyo).

I thought about playing hardball, but my family had some financial problems, so I decided to play softball,” he said.

I wanted to become a professional baseball player and make my family comfortable–that is why I have worked so hard at baseball. On the other hand, what about his academics?

I’m in a slump. …… I don’t have a slump in baseball (laughs).”

With a generation that is said to have a bumper crop of players, it is no surprise to see a succession of players who are active in the sacred land of baseball and quickly rise to stardom.

Houtoku Gakuen

Shuna Hori, junior, catcher
A good catcher who is a first-round draft candidate.

She can throw to second base in an astonishing 1.8 seconds. He is 179 cm, 80 kg, throws right-handed and bats right-handed.


Keita Manabe, 3rd year, infielder
A super-sized slugger nicknamed “Bonds” of Koryo.

One of the best sluggers of his generation. He is 189 cm, 95 kg, throws right-handed and bats left-handed.

Keio University

Seiji Kiyohara, sophomore, infielder
My father is my father, and I am my own self. Kiyohara Jr. is a high-profile player.

He does not have the long-ball ability of his father, but he has a real batting sense. He leads the team with his cheerful personality. 174 cm, 80 kg, right-handed pitcher, right-handed hitter.
Mr. Kiyohara often comes to the stadium to cheer for his second son, Katsuji. We may see him at Koshien as well.

Nishimatsu Gakusha

Kaito Katai, sophomore, infielder
With a sharp swing and a strong heart, he will make a great noise in his second appearance at the sacred ground.

He eats about 3 kg of white rice a day. He is 175 cm, 97 kg, throws right-handed and bats right-handed.

Tokai University Sugo

Naoki Hinata, 3rd year, pitcher
His favorite food is meat sauce made by his mother.

He is 190 cm, 105 kg, throws right-handed and bats right-handed.

From the March 24, 2023 issue of FRIDAY

  • PHOTO Takaki Matsuhashi (Sendai Ikuei), Kei Kato (Houtoku), Hiroyuki Komatsu (Sugo, Nishimatsu Gakusha), Yuri Adachi (Keio)

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